Monday, 28 November 2011

Talking turkey

Chicken on the lawn
It's a shame to use this blog title so early on, because I'm sure there will be much more appropriate posts later on, and I haven't even started working there full time. But I've done a couple of sessions at the turkey farm to get to know the people and processes involved in generating a third of the business turnover in just six weeks of the year. I haven't made the acquaintance of any of the turkeys, because I won't have the chance to say goodbye. They are fairly unattractive beasts, with pale skin and black beady eyes. Even the noise they make is less melodious than the chickens in the next shed - yes, the firm also raises and sells cockerels at this time of year.

The business operates from two sites, one of which runs all year round, but buys in products that it processes - separating the different parts of the birds for different purposes, cooking some of it, and just selling other parts. I now know the difference between a turkey crown, a saddle and a boneless breast. This is a premium quality operation, selling high value poultry and game products (not just turkey) to butchers, delicatessens and restaurants, with only a small proportion going to individual customers who usually come and collect their orders, although online orders can be placed.

The site where I'm based is closed down for six months of the year, and for another four it just raises the chicks. The activity leading up to Christmas becomes more and more hectic, people are stressed and sleep-deprived, but at the end of December 24 it's all over. There's a bit of follow up accounting in January and everything is thoroughly cleaned up, and that's the end of it until another load of chicks is delivered in the summer.

I've been told that the operation I'm working on is also 'traditional', which includes hanging the birds for 10 days as well as some other vague procedures that I haven't asked too much about. This means that for a Christmas order, all the slaughtering is done by 14 December at the very latest, and at that point you know what birds are available to be sold - how many, and in what weight range (from 3 to 14 kg dressed weight for the whole birds). With any luck, the dressed weights will have been correctly estimated from the freshly slaughtered birds, and the demand from customers correctly estimated to match availability at the different weights. As long as Delia doesn't tell everyone to buy a smaller turkey (which she did a couple of years ago), then we should be all right.

My job involves working back from the orders and delivery dates that customers have specified, and deciding how many birds of which weights in what order will need to go through the process of dressing and packing to fulfil those orders. There are various practical constraints that make this much more difficult than it sounds, plus the nature of customers who are vague with their orders and change their minds at the last minute. And I have to keep track of the crates that hold the delivered products - they need to be returned because they are only rented for this short period.

I have a small office with a desk, a computer, a printer and a convection heater. A gang of local lads and Polish workers do all the hard work, managed by permanent staff. It starts today, I think, and ends on 24 December, when either I shall emerge victorious or slink away defeated. I'm pretty sure it will be the former.

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